The New England Trail Part 2: Day Hikes and River Crossings
During my running years, I would tell myself at the beginning of a run, ‘Remember, the first mile always sucks.’ It takes a moment to get in the groove, for the muscle memory to kick in and the brain to quiet. The same can often be said when hiking.
When I decided to change my starting point, I did not realize at the time what a blessing it would be. The terrain was easy, albeit still slick with snow in many places. Elevation loss/gain was minimal that first day. I set out to be gentle with myself, Katahdin was only 6 months in the rear view mirror, after all. Mentally, I felt pretty invincible. A couple months of physical therapy told me otherwise. I was very thankful for my diligence with PT as I navigated around small blowdowns and icy patches covering the trail, moving slow and taking my time.
The weather was favorable those first few days, each morning started below freezing, but a storm system was heading my way. I learned how to play what I called ‘weather double dutch’ in the White Mountains, jumping off trail for inclement weather that made hiking dangerous, and it is a mindset I maintain to this day. I knew I would meet the storm on the Holyoke Mountain Range, and that was no place to deal with high winds and lightening. After a fun climb up and over Mt Norwottock, I took a day to let the storms pass.
Wonder Twin Powers, Activate!
In that day off trail, my hiking partner Band Aid was able to recover enough to join me. Hooray! We took a short first day back together, tackling the Seven Sisters and Mt Holyoke, passing the MOC cabin that in years past allowed hikers, but is currently shut off, and finishing at the Connecticut River. I had flashbacks of Virginia’s roller coaster, on a smaller level. The day was cold and clear, and without leaf cover we could see the town of Easthampton in the distance. A torturous sight, knowing two breweries were so close, yet so far! #willhikeforbeer
First River Crossing
The Connecticut River is one of two rivers on the New England Trail. It is not fordable. There is no foot bridge nearby. To circumvent it on foot adds another 10 miles. We started across the river the next day, on a newer reroute that had changed since I last hiked the area. It was confusing to start, but all was forgiven on the gentle switchback that brought us onto ridgeline and ledges. The FarOut App might be tricky on this trail sometimes, but when it says ledges, it means ledges. As in, nerve wracking in windy conditions type ledges.
A quick pause at the top of Mt Tom and then down its gnarly south face of loose rock the size of grapefruit, and we were on the move again, cautiously over small ankle twisters still hidden in the leaves on the ground. We wrapped up a few miles later, grateful for the recent rain in the rare water source.
Up until this point, we staged a car at the endpoint each day, and my husband would drop us off on his way to work. Our plan was to cross the Westfield River and hike more miles afterwards, so two cars were needed. Cars set, we hiked up through gentle inclines, never really losing the sound of cars, until we came down and crossed under the roaring Massachusetts Turnpike. No footbridge above it like on the AT 30 minutes to the West, but the tunnel under was covered by pretty remarkable street art.
Just before reaching the river, we came upon our first official camping spot, the Harold Akey tent site (45 miles from where I first started). We chose not to stay there because the tent site is only a short drive from my house. It is a nice spot for a shake down hike, however. We reached the river and Band Aid’s car, and drove back to mine to set both on the other side of the river. Logistics take time, but the weather had turned hot, and we welcomed the break.
Unlike the Connecticut, the Westfield River is crossable. Sometimes. Sometimes it is quite deep. We chose not to risk it. Cars reset, we grabbed lunch and off we went, back into the high sun and leafless trees, making the 600ft climb up Provin Mountain more difficult than it was. We ended the day skimming private property just a few miles short of the Connecticut border. Before tackling Connecticut, I was determined to wrap up Massachusetts. Stay tuned!
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